Is that all there is to Chaotica?

Not too long ago, before the advent of the Mandelbox and Mandelbulb 3D fractals, there were basically two types of fractals and two types of fractal artists: plain fractals and flame fractals. Flame fractals were a very interesting new development because they had a whole new look. They were light, gaseous and wispy while the traditional fractals were solid, lumpy and rigidly geometric. Although light and refreshing to look at, flame fractals suffered from something.  They had an achille’s heel of sorts: they lacked variety. Flame fractal imagery tended to be little more than variations on a narrow theme. That theme being “flamy-looking things”.

Apophysis, the main flame fractal program, received some improvements that spiced things up a bit and soon bubbles, clock gears and a rather promising “oil painting” look emerged.  But for me the arrival of Chaotica seemed to be the quantum leap for flame fractals that I was expecting.  And the things that were being made with it initially confirmed that a new era in flame fractal creativity was beginning.

Flame fractals seemed to be less rigidly ordered than the traditional fractals and that lead to imagery that was less rigidly geometric and mechanical.  If only they could somehow be empowered to draw something more substantial and visually fertile than just flames and glowing gas.  I had hoped Chaotica would do just that and add the visual brain that flame fractals seemed to be missing and which regular fractals always seemed to possess.

But after all these years the waiting is up and it’s time to ask the question: Is that all there is to Chaotica?

First off, not everything made with Chaotica is bad or even mediocre.  In my last post I reviewed a Chaotica artwork that I liked, by Platinus, and it was an exception to the rule.  There is some good work made with Chaotica but there just isn’t very much and it hasn’t really changed the flame fractal category very much in the way I hoped it would.  If anything, Chaotica has just moved flame fractals into a new set of wheel ruts; something new users probably don’t realize because the initial “wow-factor” which flame fractals have always possessed detaches them somewhat from reality for a while.  The potential of flame fractals looks endless, at first.

I’m going to review what I think are the best examples of Chaotica I can find.  I could easily review bad or mediocre examples but what interests me, and has always interested me, is the potential of Chaotica, how far it can reach, not what the average user does with it.  I think that’s probably the perspective of most readers, too.  Chaotica’s arm has turned out to be a lot shorter than I expected.

On that note…

~Click on images to view full-size on original site~

The first stop is the Chaoticafractals group on Deviant Art:

Chaoticafractals group description on Deviant Art

The description says, “This group was created to showcase high quality still renders and animation created or rendered in Chaotica”.  Sounds like the best place to get an idea of what Chaotica can do and what its best users are making.  “Join us in pushing the limits of fractal art!

I went through the whole “Featured” section of their gallery and chose what I thought were good examples of “the reach” of Chaotica’s “arm”.  As a side note, it’s interesting that the Chaotica image I reviewed in my last posting is not found in this featured section.

Lightspeed by katdesignstudio

As with most Chaotica images, one really needs to click on the image to view it full-size on the original site because of the rich detail they almost all contain.  The forte of Chaotica, like most flame fractals, is in the details of the exquisite graphical rendering.  Details in Chaotica are what brushstrokes are in oil painting.  A splotch, smudge, smear or even a thin line when viewed in a thumbnail, like in the the one here above, often is discovered to be a work of art in its own right when viewed close up.

Even still, how about this image?  Nice color.  Intriguing astrophotography like subject and yet rendered in oil paints in the style of Rembrandt.  You see what I mean about the proverbial “wow-factor” with flame fractals?  Chaotica must have added some of Rembrandt’s own genetic code to their program.  It’s a powerful thing.

Lightspeed by katdesignstudio (detail)

It reminds me of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  It captures the various lights of nighttime and records their movements at the same time.  You see, I’m not saying Chaotica fractals are bad.  I’m just saying that they excel at a very narrow range of things and this one is probably the best example of that excellence.  I like this image.  I’m not being sarcastic.

I scroll down a few more page lengths in Chaoticafractals’ Featured gallery, past more than just a few “smudg-isms” and this catches my eye:

In The End by LukasFractalizator (DeviantArt)

Nothing gets more panoramic than that!  I can feel the wind and the majestic awesomeness of that churning sky of energy.  I like the coloring because its so subdued and yet the effect of windswept panorama and thunderous sky-kingdom is heightened rather than weakened.  Just goes to show what can be done with well chosen palette.  By the way, I think the ground is actually a frozen lake blown bare by the wind.  Probably that storm we see moving off in the distance with a chilling cold front.  This reminds me of a few scenes in the movie, Gone with the Wind.

Lukas seems to focus on landscapes which I personally think is smart because fractal imagery lends itself that way.  And like Kat above, his work here is extremely Chaotica-ish and distinctive of the style of work the program produces.

Back to scrollin’ down the road…

Ring of Red by ChaosFissure

You know, after looking at this one you might seriously question my question, Is that all there is to Chaotica?  Pretty freaky eh?  To be honest, this is the sort of quantum leap in flame fractal graphics I’ve been hoping for.  Does this look anything like a “flame fractal”?  Check out the full-size, too, the details of the details are paintings in paintings.  The coloring is really pretty good, too.  In fact, a different palette might make this image much less interesting.  It’s got that avant-garde science fiction feel to it.  Nice strong composition as well.  Most Chaotica images are like that because I think the program offers a lot more variation in image shapes and arrangements than standard fractal imagery does, which, as I mentioned above, is much more rigid and less free flowing than flame fractal imagery usually is.

Portrait of the Artist with Sunflowers by tatasz (DeviantArt)

Truly this is a “flameless” flame fractal.  Beautiful color.  And not the usual eye-candy kind of beautiful color, either.  Very subtle and sophisticated.  Note in particular that no two dots are the same.  That’s what I like about the flame algorithms, they don’t have to have that “spirograph” rigidity although they are capable of doing that as well if the artist wants that sort of symmetrical, patterned effect.  Images like this make it hard to say anything bad about Chaotica.

This next one doesn’t make it any easier…

Runic Neutralization by ChaosFissure (DeviantArt)

The imagery here is composed of some hybrid substance.  It’s flame-like but something more than that.  The blue, watery “sword” on the right has the appearance of gushing liquid and yet the form of something more rigid and coherent like electricity or a magnetic force.  I don’t think such an image could be made in any other program.  I like the choice of title, too, because the imagery suggests something Norse or Germanic and Wagnerian.  I tried to get a wide range of artists for this but I had to let my eyes be the judge and so there’s another one by Chaosfissure.

And another…

Running the River by ChaosFissure

I chose this one because of the incredible “painterly” style it has.  Honestly, can you really believe this wasn’t painted by hand instead of being rendered on a computer?  It has a rough, abraided look to the canvas that can be achieved with something like a rough rag but you’ve got to be careful not to merely smudge the paint.  There’s none of the mechanical look of fractal art here and if you bought a print of this and hung it in your living room, visitors would never suspect it was computer art.  You might even forget after a while.

Here’s a link to ChaosFissure’s DeviantArt gallery if you haven’t gone there already.

Cherry Cola Falls by FarDareisMai

Once again a flameless flame fractal.  Another great title, too.  I find most titles for fractal art are rather uninspiring and ill fitting, but this one effervesces with the imagery.  As always, click on it to see the rich details.  Here’s an example of rich detail; my favorite from the lower left corner:

Cherry Cola Falls by FarDareisMai -detail

This reminds me of the pattern-piling type of imagery that Samuel Monnier did in Ultra Fractal.  One difference here though, and a good example of the difference between regular and flame fractals, and that’s the natural disorderliness and lack of rigidity to the imagery.  This image, like ChaosFissure’s above, have the appearance of human rather than mechanical origin.  I’m sure that’s one of the main features that draws artists to flame fractals and Chaotica.  They probably feel they are making a whole new category of fractal art, and even digital art for that matter.

And they are.  Flame fractals are still a separate and unique category because the imagery they make is sufficiently distinct to make such a separation relevant and practical.

Ironically, the great examples I’ve reviewed and commented on here show both the strength as well as the weakness of Chaotica.  The strength is easy to see: amazing “painterly” rendering with rich, stunning detail.  It’s a hallmark of Chaotica, such unmechanical computer art.

The weakness is simply the limitation of such rich rendering and it’s been the perennial problem in flame fractals from the the start.  Every awesome image in Chaotica is the last of its kind because it’s perfect and there’s nothing else to be done.  The rest all all just variations on that theme.  Once it’s been done well a single time, there’s not much room for innovation.  Take a look at these zoomed out screenshots of the Chaoticafractals Featured gallery.  It will give you a broader perspective on the category than you will get from just looking at the best examples.

Chaoticafractals Featured Gallery on Deviant Art

Chaoticafractals Featured Gallery on Deviant Art

I think you can see how similar most of the images are.  And this group is not a general “recent uploads” feed that is often crammed full of a lot of mediocre work.  This is the better stuff made with Chaotica.  The artistry primarily revolves around the rendering effects and rarely do any of the new works contain subject matter that is unique or expressive.

And the subject matter or theme of the imagery that you’ll mostly see is that of “melodrama”.  Big explosive scenes and rumbling storm clouds.  Or weird splashing paint effects.  I find myself experiencing the same few handful of emotions when viewing these images.

They’re awesome but…

The examples I’ve reviewed here are good and they compliment the genre of fractal art.  I wouldn’t have chosen them if they weren’t worth looking at and paying attention to.  But if you browse around the personal galleries of many of these artists you’ll mainly see a lot of variations on the same themes.  This isn’t because the artists are unimaginative or uncreative; it’s just that there’s still a limit to what anyone can do with flame fractals even when they’re hooked up to such a powerful rendering machine as Chaotica.  How many creative things can you do with this rich but still narrow medium?  It’s a big challenge artistically to work with flame fractals and come up with something fresh and novel.  The examples I’ve shown here are proof that it can be done, but that’s about all there is.  These artists are proof of how hard flame fractals are as a category of fractal art to work in.  I had hoped Chaotica would change that but it hasn’t.

Is there anything new in fractal art today?

I want to show you two fractal images I made years ago in Sterling v17.  I think they fit in well with the dominant themes in Chaotica artwork of: rich color; highly detailed, textured imagery; and wild, irregular, liquid flowing shapes and structures.

Sterling is a one-layer fractal program from 1999 but I think it’s still more creative overall than Chaotica is today.  But fractal art today revolves around rendering and not creativity because that’s what seems to make most fractal artists tick; that’s the itch they like to scratch, so to speak.  Great works of rendering will never be important or admired for very long because rendering technology keeps getting better and making the older stuff look weak.  Chaotica is a great rendering machine but it’s going to need some other creative engine than flame fractals if it’s ever going to produce artwork has any lasting merit.  But I’m sure anyone can still have a lot of fun with it.

Carved wood “flame fractal” by Roger Cook, 2006  at